Your Brain on Dance


It was during a flamenco class at the University of Maryland that School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies professor Karen Kohn Bradley and Dr. Jose Contreras-Vidal realized they shared a common interest in movement analysis.  Curious about the effects that dancing has on the brain, the duo ultimately decided to take their mutual interest to the next step and conduct experiments into what changes happen in the brain when a person dances.  The potential implications are quite exciting.

Their project, which Bradley calls “Your Brain on Dance: The neural symphony of expressive movement” explores ways the body expresses personality, emotions and beliefs through movement, and the ways in which movement changes the brain.  Bradley and Contreras-Vidal selected a number of skilled dancers to don an EEG brain cap, which looks much like a bathing cap dotted with electrodes and sensors that record body movement during dance.  This enabled them to examine the effects that dancing has on the brain.

Bradley and Contreras-Vidal, who is now at the University of Houston’s Laboratory for Noninvasive Brain-Machine Interface Systems, believe the research will shed light on what sorts of brain-wave patterns are associated with individual expressive movements.  Moreover, they hope this study will help inform research on the development of lifelike robotic limbs and exoskeletons for paralysis patients.

“The results of this research will help identify the components of individual human personality, which will allow us to more authentically communicate emotion and expression in fields like robotics, prosthesis development and animation,” Bradley explained.  “We hope the work can inform how avatars could eventually express what a physically and/or neurologically compromised individual is trying to communicate.”

After analyzing their pilot data, Bradley and Contreras-Vidal plan to submit a collaborative grant to the National Science Foundation, transforming the way engineering and the performing arts can learn from each other -- while uncovering solutions to some of the most devastating challenges of physical and neurological disabilities.